Climate Change Poses New Risks for Workers

Climate Change Poses New Risks for Workers

The extreme heat we’ve been experiencing this summer—and during recent summers—is more than simply uncomfortable. For those workers who must spend their days outdoors, it’s dangerous. Prolonged high temperatures and heat index numbers can injure and kill you. This summer in the U.S., a number of workers have died from the heat, including a young farmworker in Georgia, a middle-aged farmworker in Nebraska, and a 63-year-old postal worker in California. The postal worker died in her truck when the temperature outside reached 117.

In the U.S., the primary cause of weather-related death is heat. Extreme heat produces more deaths annually than floods, hurricanes, lighting, tornadoes, and earthquakes combined. This fact means that outdoor workers are especially vulnerable during hot weather.

The Increase in Extreme Weather is Real

It’s not your imagination. This summer and the previous three—2017, 2016, and 2015—have been the hottest ones on record in the U.S., according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). At the end of July, the year 2018 looked as if it would end up in the record books as the fourth-hottest year.

This summer, extreme heat has killed people in traditionally-cooler locations like Canada, where more than 70 have died, and in Japan, with more than 80 dead from a heat wave that set a new national temperature record of 106. Above the Arctic Circle, temperatures hit 90 degrees in mid-July, an all-time record.

While we in South Carolina are no stranger to hot summers, during July of 2018, heat index numbers around 110 clung to our region for many days. Most of our state had above average temperatures during August as well.

A Hotter World is Dangerous to Workers

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) published a report in 2016 that revealed the world really is growing hotter. There is strong evidence that the increase in temperatures presents a greater risk to workers in both North and South America. But heat-related illness isn’t limited to heat exhaustion and deadly heat stroke. For example, higher temperatures enable the air to hold more moisture, creating bigger rainfalls that lead to flooding in wetter areas like the southeastern U.S., producing a number of complications that can lead to illness.

For outdoor workers, a changing climate can mean:

  • An increased risk of storms that cause extensive flooding, like 2018’s Hurricane Florence. More flooding means the breeding of more disease carriers such as mosquitoes, flies, ticks, and other insects. Diseases normally restricted to the tropics are on the rise in our country, including malaria, dengue fever, chikungunya, Zika, and a variety of tick-caused diseases.
  • Prolonged wet conditions rot wood and other building supplies, breeding molds and increasing the chances of falls from slippery surfaces.
  • Building materials exposed to extreme heat can release more contaminants into the air for workers to breathe.
  • Certain medical ailments and conditions increase from complications related to the heat, such as asthma and other respiratory problems, diseases from drinking water contaminated by floods, and kidney diseases arising from chronic dehydration. Heat stress can also make a heart attack or stroke more likely.

Workers in agriculture, all forms of construction, transportation, forestry, and other outdoor occupations are all at greater risk from complications caused by excessive heat and moisture. Additionally, emergency response workers suffer from stress-related illnesses because of increases in life-threatening weather events that demand high levels of their energy and attention.

Workers Need Protections

Changes in our climate are bringing new risks to the fore. But protections for workers are few; only three states have any worker regulations regarding heat. This, despite the fact that worker deaths from heat and the temperature move together—when the temperature spikes, so do worker heat-related deaths.

In July, 2018, 130 groups gathered together to request that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) establish a national heat standard for workers that would include safe working conditions guidelines when temperatures are excessive. For the moment, if you must work outdoors, try to take your breaks where it is air-conditioned, and drink plenty of fluids to avoid dehydration and illness.

Seeking truth. Securing justice.

Since 1959, the Louthian Law Firm has helped South Carolinians win compensation for injuries and fatalities suffered in construction and other occupations. We know our clients often come to us during a stressful time in their lives. That’s why we promise our clients personalized service outside of court and knowledgeable, aggressive representation at the negotiation table and at trial.

With a workplace accident lawsuit, you may be able to collect financial compensation for your medical bills, missed work, injuries, disability and other serious, long-term effects of the accident. If a family member is killed in an accident, you may be able to bring a wrongful death lawsuit.

There is no substitute for proper legal help when making a personal injury claim. The South Carolina workplace accident lawyers at the Louthian Law Firm are here to help you recover compensation caused by the negligence of others. Call us today for a free consultation, or use our online contact form.